Welome Home

March 30 was “Welcome Home”day for Vietnam Veterans.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now, and I’d like to share some thoughts and contributions from those who were affected by this war, me and my family included.

There were so many families and friends who were affected by the Vietnam War. Some by death of their loved one, and some who lost them in other ways. There is no measure for grief. There is no closure. There is only the healing that comes from understanding and taking the time to listen.

I could never hope to understand what went on in that terrible, but beautiful place, Vietnam. I only have the letters and recollections of my brother and others that went through, the hell of that war!

“Welcome home!”… never came for my brother or those who walked off of those planes and onto American soil. If they hoped for a thank you, or pat on the back, they were sorely disappointed.

They walked onto the front porch of their farmstead homes, knocked on the door of  apartments, small town bungalows, and suburb ranches. They shelved or burned their uniforms and went on to marry, divorce, raise children, work, and sweat through the nightmares that no one else could ever understand.

It took almost forty years for us to finally acknowledge their sacrifice and courage.

I’ve had the pleasure of talking with many veterans. Their stories are the same, but their adjusting back into “The World,” as they referred to it, was quite different.

Maybe it was the strength they got from their families, their faith, or lack of, but most are, and were productive in their lives back in the states. Most have struggled to put that experience behind them.

A recollection by Norm Sassner, as shared by his wife Pat.

No parades, no hello’s, no welcome backs, no pat on the backs, nothing but cold , blank stares, some hisses, a few spits , a lot of baby killers and even a few that walk to the other side so they wouldn’t be close to me. On top of that we came home INDIVIDUALLY, no unit together, I remember it well, and will till the day I die. Today we celebrated 50 years after we left Vietnam, to those that celebrated and remembered the 58,230 that died or the 153,363 that were wounded or the 1638 that are still unaccounted for, I THANK YOU. To all that did not celebrate, please find a Vietnam Vet and look him or her in the eyes and say “WELCOME HOME, WELCOME HOME” its the least you can do…..

Norman Sassner VN 69-70

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A member of Charlie Co. 2/3 and friend of my brother in Vietnam,  Jim Faber, was interviewed at a “Welcome home” gathering in New Hampshire that weekend in March.

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Vietnam vets in Manchester finally thanked after long-awaited ‘welcome home’

NH1.com

MANCHESTER – Manchester’s VA hospital came together Monday morning to serve veterans by having a “welcome home” and recognition ceremony for those who fought during Vietnam.

“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Susan Powers said. She and her husband Gary attended the ceremony where he was thanked for serving in Vietnam years ago.

Powers explained that back during Vietnam it was a much different time when he had to be smuggled back into his own country.

NH1 News asked Powers if it was what he was expecting and he said, “No, not quite. They actually were able to sneak us off ships and put us on buses to get us out-of-town.”

Powers met his wife immediately after he came back from Vietnam. The pair started to date just as he was getting back to normal life.

“So I said sure I mean it was a blind date but sure we went out and I met him,” Susan said. “Then we hit it off very well and we got married the following July.”

The Powers have been together ever since.

“About two weeks after I got married in 1969, I went to Vietnam and spent 9 months in the jungle,” veteran Jim Faber said.

Monday morning a photo resurfaced at the ceremony that hadn’t been seen in years.

“I can’t believe I made it through my year tour),” Faber said. “I mean it was not fun at all. Very, very tough seeing your friends get killed and your family back home.”

Faber recognized a photo of the squad he served with in Vietnam, and the memory of an old friend who couldn’t be saved resurfaced.

“Very mixed (feelings), very happy I made it but very sad a lot of these people didn’t,” Faber said.

The “welcome home” and “thank you” that so many veterans said took years to receive, are thankful it finally happened.

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And what of the  Vietnamese people?  As the years have passed, I’ve also gained understanding and compassion for the people whose country was torn apart by the ravages of that conflict, those who came to this country for a better life. Was their plight any less?

Their assimilation into the American way of life is expressed by one I know quite well. Nga Bach Silva, a former student of mine.She shares her story and that of her family in the following…

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My first plane flight and the longest plane flight, EVER!  My Bach Family and I departed from our temporary home, Hong Kong, to arrive in AMERICA: Los Angeles, CA, on March 6, 1981!  I learned, at the age of 8, that flying is not a friend of mine…motion sickness is not fun when you’re not the Captain (or even Co-captain) of the airplane! 

{Why can’t I see the front of the plane?  Please, open up some doors or windows or something?  May I see what’s in my path, please?!  What is wrong with my family (always) heading into UNKNOWN territories?!} 
I remember throwing up a couple of times due to motion sickness and felt really embarrassed during our first flight.  The SMELL in a confined area was not a welcoming odor.  My mom did the best to help me find relief…all while feeling motion sickness herself.   She gently placed my forehead and the side of my face up against the small window of the plane…seeking the coldness, from the window, for comfort.  She advised me to find a focal point and stare at it, and kindly encouraged me, “Try to relax, daughter.  We will arrive, soon.” 

{Oh, Mother!  This is ridiculous!  You said the same thing about 5 hours ago.  Please, no more “soon” pep-talks. Oh!  RELAX?!  Do you realize how very, very, and VERY high in the sky we are, currently?  Perhaps, millions of miles above land!  Once again, LOTS of water beneath us!  Flashbacks of our boat life, immigrating to Hong Kong territory, for refuge in the late 1978…motion sickness, too!  UGH!  Mr. Water-MAN and Mr. Boat-MAN, how I fear you, then!  Now, add Mr. Airplane-MAN to this dislike list, too!  We were all motion sickness, except for my little brother.  He was running up and down the aisle…ALWAYS showing off!  SIT DOWN, PUNK!}

Our first destination: Los Angeles, CA!  THE PEOPLE!  WOW!  Yellow (light-colored) hair and some were REALLY CURLY {Awesome perms was my initial thoughts!}; gorgeous array of eye colors {Wait!  I think that pretty lady’s eyes are green?!}; fair to dark skin tones {Oh!  I beat really soft, too!}; and extremely TALL people, everywhere!  My eyes looking UP, UP and UP and down in all directions…I was fascinated.   And the people were all very nice…an abundance of smiles and “hellos” shared by those “brave” enough to make eye contacts with me.  
Our 2nd destination: Colorado Airport!  AHHHHHH!  The FRESH air!!! Unlike HONG KONG’s heavily polluted air!  At this stop, we were all walking and acting like ZOMBIES!  We departed from our plane and by now the signs, hanging around each of our neck, with our final destination: ICT Airport…removed from visibility!  Luckily, one of the stewardesses saw the ONE tag still hanging around my father’s chest:  ICT Airport.  “Sir, you and your family need to get back on the plane and wait for the next take off.”  (I can’t guarantee those were the exact words she said to us…but she was smiling and was very kind to us. She guided all of us back on the plane!  (Thank you, good lady.)

L.A.N.D is such a great word.  So simple and SOLID!  Already at 8 years old, I have my favorite word, LAND!  If you ask my 8-year-old me to spell the word ‘land‘ backwards, I can guarantee not only can I spell it backwards…I bet I can spell land with my eyes closed!  So, when we arrived on Colorado D.N.A.L (eyes closed), I tapped my mom on the shoulder, whispered in her ears, in Vietnamese, “Are we in America, yet?”  My mother sweetly replied, “Yes. This is OUR destiny and fate, daughter.”   

{HA!  Please, explain to me why are we climbing onto ANOTHER airplane?!  This FRESH AIR place is so beautiful, let us make this our destiny…our fate!  NOPE!  Here we go, again, Flight #3!  Bye- bye Mr. Land-MAN}

We could not read or write in English.  So, prior to leaving Hong Kong, we were educated with some simple, yet useful, English words (WITH BRITISH PRONUNCIATIONS) to help us acclimate to our new life in America: “Hello; How are you?; I am fine; Thank you; You’re welcome; Sorry; EXCUSE ME, WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?”  We may have over-used the word, THANK-YOU; with A LOT of bowing!  We were mutes; however, we found comfort with expressing our favorite word, ‘thank you.’  Mr. Thank-you-MAN was our best friend, because it made people smile back with a response, “You’re welcome.”  The one few words we UNDERSTOOD!  Mr. Welcome-MAN, I love you!     

Our sponsors from First Mennonite Church (FMC), of Newton, greeted us with open arms at ICT Airport.  We were showered with love by very faithful Christ-followers!  “Welcome to KANSAS!  How were your flights?  You must be very tired and hungry.  What do think of America?!  My name is Francis.  My name is David Shelly.  You must be Nah?  Let us go get your bags at the…blah blah….”

{Frist, my name is Nga, not “Nah!”  No, let us NOT go get our bags.  Please, stop talking!  I am ONLY hearing strange sounds coming from your mouth; plus, my head still hurts from the overrated long flights.  The best comparison of what the English language sounds like to a Chinese-Vietnamese, non-English speaker…the voice of an adult speaking in a Charlie Brown’s episode: WAAAwaaaaWaWAAAwaa.  Well, NOT ANY MORE!  Within the first year, my siblings and I graduated to Pros, with our British accent!  OK, more like a Kansan accent…whatever.  Imagine it with a British accent:  “Pardon me, sir? Would you be so kind to show me the way to the finest AND NEAREST restroom, at your spectacular facility?  Thank you, so very much!  That was, absolutely, lovely! “}

Let us move on…instead of answering the hundreds of questions from our excited sponsors…my brain wanted to ask, “Excuse me, where is the (NEAREST) bathroom?”   I wanted to interrupt a couple of times during the introduction of everyone…but I could tell mom and dad (and the 3 great-uncles) were in an ADULT ONLY ZONE.  The zone that clearly stated the adults are seriously conversing…children should be seen and not heard. 

{Yes, fortunately, I was very WISE for my age…I reframed verbally and held back physically.  Dang it!  Instead, I was thinking, “Why didn’t we learn the word NEAR or NEAREST?”  Mom and Dad owed me one…I was an obedient child!}  
“Thank you…thank you…thank you…” were the simple and respectful efforts, in a heavy accent, flowing from my father’s grateful heart and soul.  He (continuously) bowed with each ‘thank you.”  AND he performed the double-hand-grip shake to each of the sponsors.  We were extremely lucky that one of our eight sponsors, Minh-Wei (she is Taiwanese), spoke Cantonese and Taiwanese with our father! 

 

{YES!  Fist-bumps (with the explosion effect)!  OK, not really…we didn’t learn the fist-bump explosion until a little later!  I gave my siblings high-fives, side fives, low fives, and backside fives…too, slow, you missed!  OK, we did not learn this silly tricky celebration until later, too. We (just) smiled at each other. Better?  Mr. Mute-MAN, take a backseat; our father, Bach Quoc Dung, is now in charge!}    

My father’s three uncles were all living in Newton, prior to our arrival.  They were sponsored to the States by Bethel College.  They shared (honestly) with an FMC’s member, David Shelly…of our struggles…of being displayed…no country to call home.  We were stranded in Hong Kong and if no one (or country) sponsored us, we would be forced to return to NORTH Communist Vietnam with NO FUTURE, because we betrayed our government, our land, and our people. 

FMC, along with the leadership of David Shelly and seven other church members, embodied COMPASSION and GRACE upon my family; they embraced our great-uncles’ pleas for assistance.   My family, were notified that FMC will be our sponsors to the States!  Our Former Late President Ronald W Reagan, welcomed thousands of immigrants to the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.”  Here we are!  THE American dream!   

 

Fast forward some years later.  We adapted well to our new American cultures and life.  My parents made sure we never abandon our own heritage, cultures and traditions.  In times when it is easiest to just adapt 100% to all things new, they encouraged us to be proud.  We were encouraged to have pride, but not out of vanity; instead with humility and humbleness of belonging and fulfilling both ethnicity!   They taught us verbally, daily.  However, the most important lessons in life, as we inched our ways to our American dreams…they were leaders by examples. They COMPLETED and ACCOMPLISHED these life lessons with actions, consistently and not in vain.  We turned out OK.

 

Shortly after our arrival, within that first week, my parents asked the church to help seek jobs, ASAP.  At times, my father worked 3 jobs, and my mother 2 job.  We appreciated and respectfully accepted all the used furniture, free food, and the used clothing from our church family, FMC.  (Almost) daily, my parents reminded us to never take small or big fortunes (blessings) for granted.  Always embrace with gratitude, because all these fortunes (blessings) can easily slip from our hands, if we allow selfishness and pride befriend us.  If we mindfully chose to NOT apply hard work, NO actions daily and consistently, our good fate and destiny (blessings) can and will change for the worst! 

Fast forward some more years.  We arrived in America as 6 strong Bach’s.  We were siblings of 4.  We grew to 21 strong family members.  When my father was alive (his passing date, 12/2/2006), he found joy in sharing with us that he was supposed to be a father of 6 children…mom had two miss-carriages in Vietnam.  Before he died, he became a proud father of 7. He gained two daughters from my brother’s marriages and one son from my marriage…not bad…7 is better than 6! 

{Typical, but my father’s lucky number is seven! Congrats, Daddy-O!  I wish I can hear his strong voice.  I wish I can see him laugh at his own silly comments.  “Oh! My! God! Seven is my lucky number, daughter.”   I miss his voice, his smiles, his proud stares at his family, friends and total strangers, dearly.  Thank you, for showing me your kind soul.}
Currently, we have a successful small business owner, an Auto Technician, my oldest brother, Bach The Lam.  He is a proud and humbled father of 3, soon to be 4…with his beautiful wife, Le Hang, whom he married from Vietnam. 

We have a dedicated Creative Director of Ashby St, my lovely sister, Bach Ngoc Phuong.  She designs commercial bill-boards.  Every time she called or texted about a sign is going up (“…at Rock Rd and Central, sis…”), I am so stinking proud of her!  She is a proud and HAPPY auntie-mommy of 11 nephews and nieces, soon to be 12! 

We have an Architect, my baby brother, Bach The Duong.  He is a hard-working and dedicated employee of Law Kingdon, in Wichita.  He travels all over the country to help design the next Wal-Mart!  The Walmart Team!  He is a proud and committed father of 4; with a beautiful photographer wife, Kathy Bach (KatherineBachPhotography.com).   

My name is Bach-Silva Ngoc Nga.  I am a proud wife of a Law Enforcement Officer of almost 21 years, Officer F Silva.  I am a super-duper proud mother to 4 healthy and smart children.  Currently, I am grateful to work from home as a billing specialist for a very busy and fast growing company, handling 3 different doctors’ offices, and as on-call branch assistance to Edward Jones in Wichita and surrounding towns.  I am busy and I AM BLESSED!  

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Nga, her husband and children are picture upper right in this family photo.

Let me rejoice on my greatest blessing: I found GOD in America.  I am His child, too.  My Bach Family is His children, too.  This is story of my life…my blessed, God’s grace, life.  All thanks to our Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior.  I shall promise to never take this life for granted.  Life is good!  God is good!  Welcome, home!   Amen. 

Thank you, to all who contributed to this blog.

KRE

 

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